Jane Aitken

The first woman to print the Holy Bible in America

Jane Aitken Bible Podcast


* The first woman to print Bible in America
* Translated by Charles Thomson of US Congress
* Was first translation of Greek Old Testament
* First English Translation of New Testament in America
* First non-King James Bible in America


By FRANK DEFREITAS for WONDERS OF THE BIBLE
PUBLISHED: FEB 24, 2020 | UPDATED: MAR 21, 2020

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PODCAST: Jane Aitken Bible



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Jane Aitken Bible


Title page of the Thomson Bible, printed by philadelphia printer and bookbinder, Jane Aitken.
Title page of the Thomson Bible, printed by philadelphia printer and bookbinder, Jane Aitken.

Jane Aitken was a printer and book binder. She was the first woman in America to print the Holy Bible.

Hello, my name is Frank DeFreitas, and I would like to welcome you to Wonders of the Bible.

Jane Aitken was a very highly skilled, and respected printer and bookbinder, in Philadelphia. As such, she was the first woman in American history to print the Holy Bible. She was born in 1764, and came to America at age seven, with her mother Janet, father Robert, her older brother Robert Jr., and her sister Margaret. The family settled in Philadelphia, where her father set up a bookstore and print shop on Front Street, down by the Delaware river. His place of business was later moved to 22 Market Street. If you visit today, you will not find his print shop, but there is an historical plaque at this address to commemorate the history that was made there.

The American Philosophical Society web site has this to say about Jane Aitken: "She is known for her extraordinary skill as a printer, and as a bookbinder ... the only great woman bookbinder of the early American republic. Her greatest printing achievement was the Thomson Bible of 1808."

Due to this noted proficiency and reputation for high quality printing and bookbinding, it is believed that Jane must have learned and honed her skills at an early age. Upon her father's death in the year 1802, she took over the operations of her father's shop, and this soon leads to her printing and binding what was to become known as the Thomson Bible.

The Thomson Bible can lay claim to at least FOUR firsts in world history: It was the FIRST American Bible printed by a woman, the FIRST translation of the pre-Christian Greek, or septuagint version of the Old Testament into English, the FIRST English New Testament translated in America, and the FIRST non-King James Bible printed in America.

It was printed in four volumes, in the year 1808, and only 1,000 copies were issued.

Charles Thomson, the acting as translator from Greek to English, served as secretary of the First Continental Congress in 1774; the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783; and the Confederation Congress, from 1783 to 1789. Upon his retirement in 1789, he spent the next 20+ years in Biblical study, and worked on translating both the Old and New Testaments.

Charles Thomson held his position in Congress when Jane's father, Robert Aitken, successfully petitioned Congress to approve and recommend his own printing of the Bible, in 1782. This was the first English Bible printed in America, and the first (and only) Bible ever to be authorized and recommended by Congress. It is also known popularly as the "Bible of the American Revolution". Both Robert and Jane's Bibles were printed in Philadelphia. Robert Aitken's Bible was printed at his earlier-mentioned print shop, located then at 22 Market Street. Jane's printing of the Thomson Bible was printed at her later print shop at 71 N. Third Street … which is just diagonal from the famous Betsy Ross House on Arch Street.

In the 1970's, I attended the Philadelphia Printing School, also located on Market street … so I am familiar with the locations of both shops. As I rode my bicycle each morning, coming from Barrington, New Jersey into Philadelphia, I would pass the location of Robert Aitken's print shop, as I would descend the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Here is my layout for displaying my Thompson Bible page /leaf at my Wonders of the Bible exhibit. The single page goes in the white space to the left. The size of the display card is 16 by 20 inches, so it can be nicely framed.
Here is my layout for displaying my Thompson Bible page /leaf at my Wonders of the Bible exhibit. The single page goes in the white space to the left. The size of the display card is 16 by 20 inches, so it can be nicely framed. I am showing Independence Hall in Philadelphia, because Charles Thomson was Secretary of Congress there.

As mentioned earlier, father Robert died in 1802, and Jane inherited his shop at age 38, which came with substantial debts. These were not her own debts, but those left over from her father, one being a large sum from his co-signing notes of credit for her brother-in-law (who had also passed away by this time). Another being his loss of vast sums of money by the way of confederate currency, having believed that it would be redeemed at its value.

Jane worked diligently with both printing and book binding … not only to pay off the inherited debt (which she eventually did), but also to support other family members, including sisters: one a recent widow with three young children. The Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Volume 31 states: "His (meaning Robert's) daughter Jane was suffered to take the stock, on compromising, to satisfy her father's creditors. She has since paid off those debts, has accumulated some property of her own, and acquired many friends who assist her. She is praiseworthy and attentive."

All-in-all, it was difficult to keep her head above financial waters, and her printing equipment was seized and sold at a Sheriff's sale in 1813. In 1814, she found herself just north of Philadelphia -- in Norristown, Pennsylvania -- placed in what was known at the time as debtors' prison.

John Vaughan, Librarian at the American Philosophical Society (of which she provided much printing and binding services to), purchased her equipment after it was seized, and then gave it back to her upon a lease agreement.

All told, she produced at least 60 known books from 1802 through 1812.

She earned, and forever holds, a place in American history, as the first woman to print a Holy Bible in America.

As a side note, you might see web sites that claim that Jane Aitken was the first woman in the world to print a Bible -- but, to be fair, that claim may not be accurate. That title would have to go to a British woman, named Joan Jugge, who carried on her husband Richard's printing after he died in the year 1577. Richard Jugge was designated printer to her Royal Highness, the Queen of England, and is known for his printing of William Tyndale's Revised and Illustrated New Testament beginning in 1552. It is not known if Joan printed any Bible's during her tenure at the helm, but it would be most likely that she did. However, if she didn't, then, yes, Jane Aitken may, indeed, be the first woman in the World to print the Holy Bible.

Jane Aitken died on September 5, 1832 at the age of sixty-nine. Her obituary noted that she died after a "long and painful illness". She was buried in a church grave yard in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, but it has been said that the grave yard is in such a state of disarray, that it is nearly impossible to identify any of the sites within.

To close out this podcast, I would like to read the 23rd Psalm, translated by Charles Thomson from the Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint. You may noticed that it reads a bit differently than the more traditional version most of us are familiar with. For instance, we are most familiar with the opening line being "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". Thomson's translation begins with "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall want nothing".

For the most part, this is due to our most familiar version being translated from the Hebrew Messianic texts, and Thomson's being translated from Greek -- an additional interim step between the Hebrew and English.

I will be reading directly from a rare Bible leaf in my own collection, printed in 1808, at 71 N. Third Street, Philadelphia, PA, USA, by Miss Jane Aitken.

A printed page from the Thomson Bible, printed by philadelphia printer and bookbinder Jane Aitken: first woman to print a Bible in America.
Here I am holding a printed page / leaf from the Thomson Bible, printed by philadelphia printer and bookbinder Jane Aitken: the first woman to print a Bible in America. I am contemplating offering these to individuals who would like to add one to their collection. Contact me if you are interested.

XXIII.
A Psalm of David.

THE Lord is my shepherd, I shall want nothing. In verdant pasture he hath fixed my abode. He hath fed me by gently flowing water, and restored my soul. He hath led me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. For though I walk amidst the shades of death: I will fear no ills, because thous art with me; thy rod and thy staff have been my comfort. Thous has spread a table before me; in the presence of them who afflict me. With oil thous hast anointed my head; and thine exhilarating cup is the very best. Thy mercy will surely follow me all the days of my life; and my dwelling shall be in the house of the Lord to length of days.

Once again, my name is Frank DeFreitas, and may God Bless you Today and Every Day -- And -- Remember -- to always love others, just as Jesus Christ loves YOU.


"Science is the study of the physical manifestations of God in action."
-- Frank DeFreitas (Click Here for BIO)
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